Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pie Cherries and Red Currants - from the farm to our table...

It was a hot, hot day to be picking cherries in the cherry orchard at Berry Patch Farms.  You may remember that we previously visited the farm for strawberry picking in June, and I've been waiting for a chance to go back and pick some pie cherries.

The lower branches were nearly picked clean, and we had to reach high for the deep red, perfectly ripe cherries.  The pie cherries were small and tart, much more tart than the sweet cherries at the grocery store, and a teeny bit sour, so I knew they would make a fantastic dessert that wouldn't be overcome with sweetness.

I hardly took any photos at the farm this time - it was much too hot - and just focused my attention on the branches full of ruby red fruit.  Blue netting covered the orchard to keep the birds away from the fruit, but it didn't prevent the flies from biting my legs.

After filling four pint containers with cherries, we walked past the raspberry fields over to the rugged rows of red currants.  Hundreds - no, thousands - of grasshoppers jumped from the tangled grass at our feet into the currant bushes, and they sat on the branches, watching me, everywhere I reached.  I didn't mind the grasshoppers, but Jamie got stung by a bee that was hiding among the little berries.

Until now, I've never tasted a currant - or even seen one, actually, except in photos - and I was surprised by how small and tart they were.  They contained a bunch of little seeds which I didn't particularly care for, since the ratio of seeds to fruit was a little high.  So I knew that whatever I made with them would need to be seedless.

Picking the currants was hot, tedious work, and I appreciated learning a little more about what it takes to get food from the fields to my table.  I can hardly imagine the work it takes to harvest all that fruit by hand, but it's something that I don't want to take for granted.

We filled two pint containers with currants and were more than ready to go find a drink of water.  Back in the little store at the farm where we weighed the cherries and currants and found relief from the sun in front of an oscillating fan, I also found English Peas, just picked from the vegetable garden.  I filled a bag with the peas, happy to have fresh peas for the soup I was planning on making for dinner that evening.

I've always thought cherries with chocolate is a delectable combination.  Maybe it was the chocolate-covered cherries, nestled in pretty boxes at Christmas time, or the chocolate cherry blizzard at Dairy Queen, but it's a flavor combination that I love.

I remember baking a cake as a kid, a cake intended for my dad - so it was probably either Father's Day or his birthday - and I decided that he would like cherries in his cake.  So I picked out our only special cake pan, a large, heart-shaped pan with another smaller heart that created another level of cake in the center, and dumped a can of cherry pie filling into the pan.  Cherry pie filling was followed by chocolate cake mix batter.  And the two were swirled together into what I thought was something completely wonderful.

The cake turned out exactly as I hoped it would, moist cherries embedded in chocolate cake, creating almost a pudding cake texture, all in a pretty heart shape.  I thought I was a cake mastermind.  After presenting a piece to my dad, he ate a few bites...  but I could see his grimace.  He didn't like it.  I still don't really know why, I mean, what wasn't to like?

A grownup version of my chocolate cherry cake creation is this chocolate cherry tart.  Buttery shortbread crust, filled with slightly sweet and tart cherry pie filling from the pie cherries, and topped with chocolate custard.  This may be one of the best little tarts I've made, and certainly indulges my chocolate cherry love affair.  And Jamie pitted all those little cherries for me while I made the crust, which just makes him my hero.

After considering the seeds in the currants, which neither of us wanted to chew on, Jamie suggested I make jam, which I agreed was a good use of the fruit.  I didn't think those little berries would go too far after cooking down, so I added in blackberries also, crushing the mixture to release as much juice as possible.  Once it was cooked and strained, I had a bowl of perfectly smooth jelly that was a beautiful, deep red color, with the unique flavor combination of currants and blackberries, and a hint of nutmeg and orange peel.

Fresh homemade jam needs a biscuit or a piece of toast to really shine, so I baked a loaf of whole wheat oat bread, which was delicious in its simplicity.  It was a very soft, sandwich-style bread, that still tasted fresh days later.  It was especially good sliced thick and toasted, then spread with a little peanut butter and jelly.  Which is exactly what we ate for breakfast that morning.

Cherry Chocolate Tart
printable recipe

cherry filling:
  • 1 1/2 pounds (about 4 cups) pitted pie cherries (use sweet cherries if pie cherries are not available)
  • 1 1/4  cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup minute tapioca
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
chocolate pudding:
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 ounces dark, bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Cook's Note:
This recipe makes enough dough, cherry filling and chocolate pudding to fill a 9-inch round tart pan.  I used a smaller rectangular pan measuring about 9x4 inches, so I ended up with some leftovers of each.

1.  Prepare and bake the crust:
Follow the instructions in the recipe link above to make and bake your tart crust.  Set aside to cool.

2.  Prepare the cherry filling:
In a medium saucepan, combine all of the ingredients for the cherry filling.  Let stand for 15 minutes.  Over medium heat, bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Once it's close to boiling, stir constantly, then cook until the juices thicken to the consistency of pie filling.  Set aside to cool at room temperature for an hour.

3.  Prepare the chocolate pudding:
In a medium saucepan, combine the cocoa powder, sugar, cornstarch and salt.  Whisk in the milk, then the egg yolks, whisking to break up any lumps.  Over medium heat, bring to a boil while stirring constantly.  Once the pudding boils, continue cooking, stirring constantly, for two minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped chocolate and vanilla, stirring until smooth.

4.  Assemble the tart:
As soon as the chocolate is ready, it's time to put your tart together.  Spoon the cherries into the bottom of the crust; they should cover the bottom and come about halfway up the sides, but not fill it so completely that there's not enough room for the chocolate.

Spoon the warm chocolate pudding over the cherries, spreading out the top.  Let the tart sit on the counter so the pudding can cool a little, then place in the refrigerator to cool for at least 4 hours, until well chilled.

Garnish the top of the tart with extra cherries before serving.

For any leftover dough, wrap it tightly in plastic, label and freeze it for future use.  For any leftover cherry filling, spoon it into jars and refrigerate or freeze for another pie or tart.  For any leftover pudding, scoop it into a bowl and eat it warm with a little whipped cream - it's fantastic!

Yields enough for one 9-inch round tart (8 servings).

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Red Currant Blackberry Jelly (seedless)
printable recipe
  • 12 ounces blackberries
  • 1 pound red currants
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried orange peel
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons classic pectin
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar

In a large stockpot, combine the blackberries, currants, lemon juice, orange peel and nutmeg.  Cook over medium-low heat for about five minutes, until the fruit starts to release its juices.  Use a potato masher to mash the fruit as much as you can.  Stir in the pectin.

Turn the burner to high and bring to a boil while stirring constantly (you should be wearing an oven mitt to protect your hand from hot splatters).  When the mixture boils, add the sugar all at once.  Continue to stir constantly until the mixture returns to a vigorous boil, then boil it hard for one minute.  Remove from the heat.

Pour mixture into a fine mesh strainer placed over a bowl.  Push as much liquid through the strainer as you can, and discard the seeds and pulp that are left behind.  You may think that you have just made a bowl of juice or syrup, but it will gel as it cools.  To test it, spoon a little jelly onto a plate and set the plate in the freezer.  After one minute, take the plate out; if you can turn it sideways and run your finger through the jelly and it stays in place, it is the right consistency.

Pour the jelly into jars and place in the refrigerator to cool down for immediate use, or follow standard canning procedures if storing in the pantry or giving away as gifts.

Yields 3 half-pint jars (3 cups).

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Whole Wheat Oat Bread
printable recipe
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried orange peel
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Pour the water and milk into a saucepan and warm to about 115 F.  Pour the liquid into the bowl of a stand mixer; sprinkle the yeast over the liquid and let stand for 10 minutes until foamy.

Add the oil, honey and molasses to the mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients and add to the mixing bowl.  With the dough hook, stir on low for two minutes to combine, then increase speed to medium and knead for five minutes, until the dough climbs the hook and slaps against the side of the bowl without sticking.

Shape dough into a ball, place in a large, greased bowl, cover with plastic, and set in a warm place to rise for one hour, until doubled in size.

Gently punch the dough down and turn out onto a lightly floured surface.  Press out the bubbles and shape the loaf into a square, the same length as your loaf pan.  Fold the dough into thirds, tuck the ends under, and place the loaf of dough into a greased loaf pan, seam side down.  Cover with a towel, set in a warm place and let rise until the dough just begins to puff over the edges of the pan.

Preheat the oven to 400.  Sprinkle the top of the loaf with a few oats.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, until deep golden brown.  The bread should sound hollow when tapped.  Turn the bread out onto a wire rack, cover with a towel and cool for one hour before slicing.

Yields one large loaf.

Recipe adapted from White on Rice Couple.